Nearly 1000 towns, cities and regions have committed themselves to gender equality across the range of their powers, since the Charter was first launched at our congress in Innsbruck in 2006, and signed by Hilde Zach, the feisty and tireless Mayor of that beautiful Austrian city.
Drafting the Charter was not easy – it is quite a dense document (even I must confess!), which at one and the same time asserts legal rights, and also offers practical ideas and guidance. The aim is that every town and city that signs up should have and implement a real gender action plan. The Charter covers all of the different roles of the local authority – political and democratic representation, major employer, service deliverer, contractor… there’s a section on all of these.
I recall a tense meeting in Cyprus (a great place to have tense meetings…) when it seemed there was total blockage – the participamts had totally different ideas of what they wanted from a European Charter for equality. Some wanted just general guidelines, others envisaged a binding set of commitments… we sat down for many hours, late at night, to hammer out ideas for the final Charter’s unique blend of rights and guidance… then Diane and I sat for hours here at the the kitchen table in my London flat putting the bits together.
What has been fantastic is the political support the Charter has gathered – mainly but not only from leading women elected politicians – who have really pushed it – in my view precisely because it is that mix of rights and guidance. The city of Paris gave a great example of strong political push, coming from the senior vice mayor Anne Hidalgo. The other great thing has been the voluntary work of women from all over Europe giving their time to translate the Charter – originally drawn up in English and French – into 20 languages, all of which can be found from the CEMR website.
I’m also a bit sad today, since the chair of CEMR’s Women Elected Members Committee, Vicenta Bosch Palanca, died of cancer on 30th December at too early an age. She gave the Charter her full and dynamic support – a support continued by Joscelyne Bougeard, the present Chair. Vicenta’s English and my Spanish were similarly limited, but we often put on a good double act!
One last point – although Diane and I largely drew up the Charter, in line with the consensus hammered out, which therefore has a certain British linguistic style, the UK is one of the least represented among signatories – just 2! I hope I can now persuade the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission to see just how valuable a tool it can be.. and maybe, before too long, see some of Britain’s major cities appear on that growing list of signatories.